Wednesday Writs for 9/11: Willie Francis is Executed, Twice


Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    L9: Who do they think they are? Police?Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    L3 – Way to go, judge…

    L9: Personally, I don’t believe a crime was committed. If a bank accidentally puts money in my account, then it’s mine. They should be more careful. I mean, if I accidentally write a check for more than the amount in my account, I don’t get to a take-backsies to avoid overdraft fees, do I?Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      You’re relying on the wisdom and business knowledge gained from playing Monopoly.

      Community Chest – Bank Error in Your Favor! Collect $200 (Image)

      I’ll bet all such misperceptions trace back to that one source.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

        But what was the crime committed? Theft? Fraud?Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Well, suppose I leave my car in your driveway with the keys in it while I go on vacation. There’s no crime in driving my car around if you want, but you shouldn’t sell it to somebody else, and you certainly can’t sell it and keep the money, because although it was sitting in your driveway, it wasn’t your car to sell.

          I suspect bank errors are somewhat similar. It’s your bank account, just as it’s your driveway, but that still doesn’t mean that everything in it is necessarily yours.

          This probably comes down to objects having owners, and owners having containers (driveways, glove boxes, and bank accounts), but the container not being the absolute determinant of an object’s ownership.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

            Did you and I have an understanding regarding the car, or did a strange car magically show up in your driveway one day, with the keys in it, and no obvious paperwork showing ownership? How long should I wait before I decide to get a salvage title and sell the thing?

            How long did the bank take to catch and correct their mistake? Was it a day, a week, a month (article doesn’t say)?

            All that said, yes, the bank does have a right to get the money back, which is what civil courts are for.

            Why is this in criminal court?Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Well, I would assume that they hastily went on a spending spree instead of telling the bank “There has been some mistake.”

              Going with the car analogy, suppose you find a truck with the keys in it on a piece of remote property you own, and guess that someone is out hunting deer and didn’t want to risk dropping their keys in the woods.

              Maybe they have your permission to be on your land and maybe they don’t, but a court is going to look at your actions in light of what a reasonable person would do.

              Did you leave a note on the truck, and for how long, before treating it as an abandoned vehicle? Did you contact the authorities to report an abandoned vehicle? Did you make any attempt to identify and contact the owners? Or did you just see it, hop in, and drive it to a car auction?

              I’m sure there’s lots of case law on the subject, since so many folks have used the “I found it on my property, so I claimed it” defense.

              There’s certainly some line in the law where a person’s actions have simply crossed over into theft.

              For another analogy, if some fleeing bank robbers dump the loot in your car during their attempts to elude the police, you need to report that. If you instead run off to Vegas with the cash then you’re probably just made yourself the getaway driver and an accessory to the bank robbery.

              Or suppose a Brink’s truck rolls over on the highway and a bunch of bags land in the back of your truck, which to some would qualify as a bank error in their favor.

              These are temptations to commit a crime, and just because it’s tempting to the average person doesn’t mean it’s not straight up theft.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to George Turner says:

                Fair point.

                My larger point is that the law is structured to the benefit of banks over depositors.

                Case in point the practice of banks running all debits against an account BEFORE running the deposits to an account. AFAIK, there is no fundamental reason for this, other than it increases the possibility of a bank being able to leverage overdraft fees, and that is not seen as some kind of theft or fraud on the part of the bank.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                That should be treated as fraud. Too many bank executives lack the ethics to resist clever schemes to loot the accounts of their depositors, especially the poorer depositors.

                Another trick some (like Chase) got in some trouble for was re-ordering a day’s transactions so that they could charge for the maximum number of overdrafts. If the last purchase of the evening was big enough to let them charge $40 fees on each of the day’s prior trivial coffee and donut purchases, they’d go ahead and do that.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I couldn’t see any documentation, but it appears that Pennsylvania, like many states, criminalizes theft for failure to return property:

      § 3924. Theft of property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake.

      A person who comes into control of property of another that he knows to have been lost, mislaid, or delivered under a mistake as to the nature or amount of the property or the identity of the recipient is guilty of theft if, with intent to deprive the owner thereof, he fails to take reasonable measures to restore the property to a person entitled to have it.

      Knowledge and intent are the key elements, and it appears that the couple told investigators that they knew the money didn’t belong to them and the bank wrote notices. There is also probably an issue of spending so much money so quickly, which would be interpreted as thinking they had to spend it or lose it.

      I’m not sure a lot of prosecutors would go after something like this though, as opposed to leaving it to the bank to go after them.Report

  3. Avatar George Turner says:

    L5: The Outer Space Treaty will eventually have to be junked because it’s not organic case law that ties intuitively to anything regarding property or human behavior, it’s a treaty to keep limit Cold War diplomatic space incidents. It’s requirements result in bizarre situations and it can be gamed in strange ways.

    Under almost any reading of the OST, a Russian astronaut on the ISS must notify the UN Secretary General before he hugs an American astronaut. The treat prohibits any nation from interfering with an experiment being conducted by another nation, so if I showered the moon with a 50 pound bag of self-rising flour and called it an albedo and UV bleaching experiment, no other country would ever be allowed to land anywhere on the moon, since a landing would affect my stupid flour experiment.

    Once cases start landing in courtrooms, a lot of space law will likely end up harmonizing with Western property law where concepts of ownership, control, and liability are the result of countless centuries of cases where ordinary people thought deeply about who did what to whom.Report

  4. Avatar PD Shaw says:

    [L1] I didn’t realize until reading the link that after the opinion was published Justice Frankfurter reached out to a former classmate in order to get him to use his influence on the Governor in favor of a reprieve from execution. That adds another layer to the conflict btw/ personal views and judicial roles. And he didn’t tell the other Justices what he had done.

    However, I did know the governor was the “singing governor,” Jimmie Davis, best known for “You Are My Sunshine,” and at least a partial inspiration for the Governor in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” While this last minute attempts were being made, its possible that Davis was in California, cutting and filming musical shorts. The bright lights beckon to stars and moths alike.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe says:

    L5 – most things in space I think can be modeled after maritime law, where (my understanding as a layperson) is that the vessel’s flag (i.e. country it belongs to) is the one that has sovereignty and thus jurisdiction for most crimes. The ISS is interesting in that it does not technically ‘belong’ to any country, as far as know.

    What may be interesting is that if there’s a breakthru in propulsion (or other method of moving through 3 dimensional space), and relativistic effects become manifest, how statute of limitations may work. Whose time is the controlling authority?Report

  6. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    Willie Francis died in the Louisiana electric chair that May, just a few months past his 18th birthday.

    Good Lord, they sentenced a child to die!Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

      Yep. Arrested at 15, tried and convicted at 16, first attempted execution at 17, death at 18. He had a sham of a trial with little to no defense, and there was some evidence of his innocence. It’s really tragic. Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        His lawyer to the Supreme Court originally thought he was guilty but did some investigation of his own and realized how messed up the original trial was. Welcome to the Old South. Not that much has seemed to change. There is.a cruel streak in American jurisprudence and racism makes it a lot worse.Report